7.1 Dragonstone: The Beginning of the End

Image result for dragonstone

Twenty-one years after the publication of A Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen finally set foot on Westerosi soil Sunday night. It was everything I could have hoped for. (The dragons almost as big as the castle!) Orchestral swells as the gates of Dragonstone were thrown open raised goosebumps on my arms, not because Dragonstone is the coolest castle in Westeros but because the beginning of the end is here and we’re in for one wild ride.

There’s plenty to discuss about the hour before her return. Sam spewed chunks in the greatest montage in cinematic history, Sandor called Thoros of Myr a “bald cunt”, and Cersei ruined some dude’s wet painting. So let’s say yes to Daenerys’ question and jump right in.

Cold open’s are fairly rare in Game of Thrones; the last revealed that The Hound was still alive. This time we open on Walder Frey, a “bald cunt” if there ever was one. But it’s not Walder, as I assumed for a heartbeat. No, it’s Arya using her skills from the House of Undying to murder the entire freaking House Frey! Yesssss Arya. Get that sweet, sweet vengeance for the Young Wolf and Catelyn Stark.

This does beg the question, how often will we see Arya with someone else’s face? Every time we’re shown a group of people in the Riverlands or King’s Landing from now on I’ll have to examine each for idiosyncrasies of character that could tip me off. There’s simply no way this is the last time she steals someone’s face. Constant Vigilance!

Tinfoil time: Arya will kill Cersei. She says so herself and though Ed Sheeran & Co. laughed her off I happen to believe her. In my preseason post I mentioned the valonqar aspect of Cersei’s prophecy and how Jaime has not distanced himself enough from her to warrant him killing her. I think this could be a clever work-around. Arya could take Jaime’s face and kill Cersei in the most tragic way possible. Cersei, after losing everything, will have to stare into her lover’s eyes as he strangles her.

Unfortunately, for this theory to work Jaime has to die. Not a fan of that. I’m looking forward to him rushing through the Field of Fire 2.0 later this season. I hope this theory remains crinkly tinfoil and never comes to fruition.

Following Slaughterhouse-Frey, Bran witnesses the Night King, an army of wights (please, no Hodor), and Winter march south. No matter how much I love Bran I’ve got to say he’s turning into a terrifying child. Poor Lord Commander Dolorous Edd simply asks him to prove he’s Brandon Stark and instead he launches into a depressing tirade about how death is coming for us all. Jon must have been particularly brooding before he renounced his vows because Edd lets them in.

Take note: Bran has not passed through the Wall. Just as the Night King’s mark on Bran’s arm allowed him to break the magical barriers surrounding the Three-Eyed Raven so to will it break the magic of the wall and bring it crashing down. And wouldn’t it be just Edd’s luck to be the Lord Commander when it falls.

The old Lord Commander spends the episode being honorable. I love seeing Jon as King. As Sansa says, he truly is good at it. I just hope Jon eventually takes some of Sansa’s advice. She hasn’t just suffered at the hands of the Worst of Westeros but learned from them. Her counsel will be vital. Jon can’t always sweep it under the rug as he did on the Karstark/Umber issue.

Thankfully, Jon and Sansa are both reasonable people. They didn’t pull a Hollywood, they talked about their disagreement. Someone should have told them characters aren’t supposed to talk, they’re supposed to brood and let it create conflict, opening up an opportunity for Littlefinger to come in and ruin everything. Not this time Baelish. Jon and Sansa talk and then Sansa shuts Baelish down so hard he has to run to find Maester Wolkan to poultice his burn. Oh ho, I am excited to see conniving Littlefinger’s downfall.

 

Euron was a marked improvement over last season. Some of the magic involved in building 1,000 ships on islands without forests, in record time must have infected him. His quips, extended time on screen, and promises of a gift mean he’s going to be an influence all season. During his audience with the Queen he steps toward the throne and immediately The Mountain makes his presence known. Oh yes, he’ll be involved in something big this season he seems to be telling us. Something…

But seriously, Sandor, hater of the top-knot, Clegane saw visions in the flames, and since he didn’t try to interpret them or add his own twist to it—Melisandre anyone?—they were accurate. This is a big deal. Has he been able to see visions all his life but never did only because he’s afraid of fire? Moreover, was it this ‘baptism’ by fire that gave him this ability in the first place. Intriguing questions we’ll probably never know the answer to.

I can’t wait to what role The Hound and The Brotherhood Without Banners fight alongside Jon against the White Walkers. We could have some of the most legendary figures of Westeros fighting side by side in just a few weeks. Jon, Tormund, Beric, Brienne, The Hound. Who doesn’t want to see Beric’s lightsaber, I mean Lightbringer, I mean flaming sword alongside Longclaw and Oathkeeper?

Let’s wrap up Episode 7.1 discussion with Samwell Tarly. There’s no way he remains at Oldtown all season. There are too many plots converging on him. Since he’s a moron and stole Heartsbane his brothers going to be hunting him down. Then there’s Jorah the Explorer, whom I assume wound up in the Citadel after being commanded by Daenerys to find a cure. They’re definitely going to want to leave together.

But before that happens Sam very well may get kicked out of the Citadel for breaking the rules. You would think Sam would know to take his Invisibility Cloak with him into the restricted section of the library. He’s going to be caught. I hope for his sake it’s by lovable Jim Broadbent and that before he’s caught he finds more useful information like why the dagger used in Bran’s assassination attempt was in the book he pilfered. If not that I’ll settle for him learning how to work a Glass Candle or a number of other things. The Citadel is rife with potential. I hope the showrunners don’t squander it.

 

We have five days before we return Lyanna Mormont and Archmaester Ebrose. Here’s what we have to look forward to:

“A Targaryen cannot be trusted.” God dammit, Bronze Yohn you can’t trust anyone. Luckily, Jon will have some interesting news for you after meeting with Littlefinger in the Crypts of Winterfell.

NYMERIA!!! The reunion we’ve all been waiting for is coming. A direwolf is back. Wait… where’s Ghost? With a massive budget for CGI Nymeria better be huge and around all the time.

Best of luck thinking about anything else this week. If you’re like me and can never get enough I recommend the Youtube channels Ozzyman Reviews and AltShiftX for great reviews of each episode.

 Game of Thrones: Pre-Season Hypestravaganza

If you’re like me you have a problem, an addiction that on the streets goes by the name ASOIAF. Luckily, it’s the greatest time of the year! Game of Thrones returns in 12 hours for seven weeks. To celebrate I’ll be trying something new here on Mediocre Penguin. We’ll talk about the specifics in a minute. Let’s jump right into the hypestravaganza.

Warning: Spoilers lie ahead. SPOILERS. Seriously, don’t be dumb and ruin it for yourself.

If you somehow haven’t seen it here’s the trailer.

We’ve only got thirteen episodes left in the series and we’re far, far past the realm of the books which means I’m as lost as anyone. That feeling is simultaneously exciting, confusing, and terrifying. How have show-only-folks heart’s not exploded from anxiety over the last six years? There’s so much I want to know. Will Benioff & Weiss finally nix Dorne? I pray every night. Will Bran be totally awesome? Damn straight.

Please, please Bran, do some cool shit. You’re my favorite. Don’t let me down.

Anyway. Here’s my, by no means exhaustive, questions and speculations for the next seven episodes broken down by character/location.

 Kit Harington as Jon Snow -  Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
Fookin’ Jon Snow

Jon Snow

-As the newly appointed King in the North (so great) he’s got a lot of new responsibility. To the north there’s the White Walkers and their wight army. To the south he has the likes of Cersei, the Freys, and Daenerys. I’m going to predict that Jon ventures north of the Wall as we see in the trailer and gets defeated. Then, in some fashion he will meet with Daenerys to convince her of the true threat to humanity. This meeting will likely occur in the last bit of the season, setting up the main conflict of season eight.

-Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark are Jon’s parents. The only questions are: is he still a bastard, if not then will it matter, and how will it be revealed. I hope Bran gets to be vehicle of revelation.

-Jon Snow will not die. As Rhaegar says in the House of the Undying “his is the song of ice and fire.”

Arya Stark

I don’t want it to be so, but I fear it is. Arya will die. Not easily, and not before killing some more but there’s just no way she survives until the end of the series. Not even the fact that Arya is George R. R. Martin’s wife’s favorite character can save her. (If you’re not so sure take a minute to reread the chapter in A Game of Thrones where Jon gives Arya Needle.) Before she dies will she at least get to reunite with Nymeria? Will Jon tousle Arya’s hair one more time? Arya, you stress me out.

Bran Stark

Will Bran be awesome? Will Bran warg a dragon? (OH MY GOD PLEASE!) I have no predictions for Bran, only questions and questions and questions.

Sansa Stark

-Tinfoil time. I’ve thought Sansa will be Queen for several years now and for a long time that meant Queen of the North. Last week I wondered, what if Daenerys fails or sacrifices herself to defeat the White Walkers? Sansa Stark and Jon Targaryen are then somehow left to rule. Ice and Fire. That sounds like a big stretch and too cheesy for Martin but I’m going to throw it out there in case I’m right. We’ll know in two years.

-Will there be a Stark reunion this season? If not, there better not be five near misses. That drives me crazy.

 

Cersei Lannister

Everyone knows Cersei is a dead-woman walking. What crazy things will she do before her death? I have zero substantial ideas but I think she’ll be on the defensive for most of the season.

Jaime Lannister

One of the shows unforgivable sins is the way it handles Jaime’s character. His redemption arc from A Storm of Swords on is masterful. His burning of Cersei’s letter begging for help in A Feast for Crows is one of the greatest “Hell yeah!” moments of the series. The show-runners cannot deny these changes forever. Eventually, Jaime will spurn Cersei when he realizes the monster she has become. He will fulfill the prophecy of Maggy the Frog (he is the valonqar) and strangle her when she tries to do something truly terrible.

 

Tyrion Lannister

-From the trailer it appears Tyrion takes back Casterly Rock using knowledge from when he was placed in charge of its sewer system by Tywin. Sound strange? Trust me. This is exactly how the Unsullied will get into the impregnable Casterly Rock.

-As far as a larger role, I think he will cement his legacy as a diplomat. He will help to ease the tensions between Jon and Daenerys. He will be the Hand the knits the realm together.

Samwell Tarly

Why in the hell did Sam steal his father’s Valyrian steel blade? It makes zero damn sense. Will it give him an epiphany at the last moment while studying at the Citadel that Valyrian steel is crucial to defeating the White Walkers. Probably. Even though we learned that in Season 5 Episode 8 in one of the greatest moments of the show.

King’s Landing

I suspect we haven’t seen the last explosion to rock King’s Landing. In an early season we’re shown a vision of the throne room. At first glance it appears to be snow. But what if it’s ash? We know that there was wildfire under the whole of King’s Landing, not just under the Sept of Baelor. What if one of Dany’s dragons accidentally set if off during the invasion? What if Cersei tries to set it off in one last act of desperation and Jaime has to step in just like he did years earlier with the Mad King?

The Wall

Will the Wall fall? I think so. Imagine this. The final scene of the season. The wall comes crashing down. We see a close-up of the Night’s King, then the camera pulls back and shows his army. Boom. He’s coming to mess some stuff up in season 8.

Clegane-bowl

No questions. It will happen.


 

So that’s the hypestravaganza. Enjoy the beginning of the end tomorrow. Check back every Tuesday morning for some unoriginal thoughts and reactions.

All aboard the hype-train.

The Chronicles of Prydain: A Review

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
Henry Holt and Company, 1964-1968

If there was ever a series that steered the craft of my childhood it was The Chronicles of Prydain. First published fifty years ago these novels established Lloyd Alexander as a giant in children’s literature. Across five books and five years the Chronicles of Prydain, garnered a Newbery Honor (The Black Cauldron), a Newbery Medal (The High King), and two ALA Honors for The Book of Three and The Castle of Llyr.

Alexander’s inventive tale follows the exploits of Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper. At the outset Taran resides in the pastoral paradise Caer Dallben with a three-hundred-year-old wizard and a seasoned war veteran. When his charge, the oracular sow Hen-Wen, escapes her pen and flees into the forest Taran is thrust into adventure and finds its not exactly what he hoped for.

Alexander deftly handle’s his young hero’s coming of age, taking care to never force him into contrived situations. This is never more clear than in Taran Wanderer, the fourth volume of the Chronicles. Its tight focus and lack of world-shaping quests make for the most introspective and, what I feel, is easily the best-written novel of the entire series.

Long ago I yearned to be a hero without knowing, in truth, what a hero was. Now, perhaps, I understand it a little better. A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king–every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.

Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander

During his many journeys across the entirety of Prydain, Taran is joined by three tried-and-true companions. Together, they go from revering the legendary figures of old to becoming ones in their own right.

Fflewddur Fflam: a boisterous and gregarious minor king of the north with a penchant for stretching the truth and magical harp that keeps his tongue in check.

Princess Eilonwy: the queen of strange metaphors and a descendant of enchantresses who never misses an opportunity to tease Taran. Her only tie to her ancestors of Llyr is a magical bauble, the Golden Pelydryn, that glows at her will.

Gurgi: a strange creature, neither animal nor human, but both. He is the most loyal and trustworthy companion one could hope for and a steadfast friend of Taran whom he refers to as “kindly master”.  He is often concerned for his “poor tender head”, protecting himself from “thrashings and smashings” and when he can next fill his belly.

The wonderful, magical land of Prydain. A land so fascinating I doodled it every day of first grade rather than pay attention.

It was truly a pleasure to re-read this series that has given me so much. The Chronicles of Prydain introduced me to the wonderful possibilities of fantasy and instilled a life-long adoration of farm-boys thrust into adventure. My original journey with Taran, Gurgi, Fflewdur, and Eilonwy will never be forgotten.

Series rating: 4 out of 5 crunchings and munchings
Up next: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The Wide Window: A Review

The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
214 pgs, HarperCollins, 2000

A couple weeks ago while preparing to move, I was clearing my bookshelves. As I was working through my childhood books, lovingly appraising each of them before packing them safely away, I was slapped in the face by wave after wave of nostalgia. When I reached A Series of Unfortunate Events thinostalgia became tinged the scent of horseradish and confusion. Try as I might, consulting all thirteen volumes for reference, I found I couldn’t remember a thing about the third Baudelaire adventure The Wide Window. Adventure is a word which here means latest despairing trial.

This seemed preposterous, on a level of absurdity that rivaled Count Olaf. To say I was a fan of this series as a child is a monumental understatement. How could I have missed one? To give you a glimpse into my childhood madness consider this escapade.

I remember, after tearing through The Grim Grotto (I believe the same day—at the latest, the day after—it was released) sitting on my Batman Animated Series comforter flipping back through the story collecting newly revealed clues. What the hell is the deal with the VFD? I wondered. And why do they care so much about a damn sugar bowl? What will the next book be about? What will its title be? This last question intrigued me. It seemed within the realistic grasp of a twelve year old child to somehow deduce two unpublished and more than likely not-even-started-yet books. Could there be a pattern, a code of sorts, waiting for Trevor to come along with his sole genius and discover what no one else knew?!

Well, obviously.

You see, all the titles follow a pattern. Each word starts with the same letter (I didn’t know the word alliteration yet). Very interesting. There must be a pattern. Quick Robin, to the bookshelf. On the fourth shelf behind the books, next to the John Deere piggy bank and the Batman wallet, is your Secret Agent 007 notebook. Get to work.

My findings: the next, and final, two Baudelaire adventures will begin with the letter E and then the letter J. That’s as far as I got. In time it was revealed that the twelfth and thirteenth books would be called The Penultimate Peril and The End. So basically, I’m awesome, and bow down you filthy pagans. Oh, and do be so kind, forget that I had a 50% success rate by sheer chance, that I was ruined by the abrupt dismissal of alliterative titles with the last book, and that even though I guessed the correct letter ‘E’, I guessed it for the wrong book.

Needless to say, I was more than happy to right this thirteen-year-old mistake and read The Wide Window. If my tale of superior detective skill made you excited to pick up the series, you’re in for a treat. Lemony Snicket is one snarky bastard. It’s fantastic. Sit back and enjoy tales of horseradish, the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and poisonous mushrooms.

Bonus note: Apparently Netflix has made the series into a show. Yes! And, it stars Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket. That’s all I needed to hear. I’ll be there. Who doesn’t want more David Puddy?

Rating: 3 out of 5 Lachrymose Leeches
Up Next: The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Middlesex: A Review

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
544 pgs, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 2002

Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.

Oh family sagas, you are my cup of tea. On the occasion you utilize a postmodern voice that tends toward the embattled label of hysterical realism you become my crack. So effective is your snare that as the cover of Middlesex closed for the final time a now familiar sentence slipped from my mouth “that was the best book I’ve read in a long time.” Just how high in Trevor’s Pantheon of Greats—on your left ladies and gentleman you’ll see our Authors gallery if you look carefully you can just make out Novels to the right—remains to be seen.

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.

Fascinating as that opening is Cal’s story is but a portion of this bildungsroman/epic. Over five hundred and some odd pages Cal traces his family’s adventures over continents and three generations. What family secrets and courtings could have led to the peculiar genetic hand he’s been dealt?

I have a feeling another author tasked with this story of secret hermaphroditism and incest would have crafted a character study and made the external mundane—by repressing the individuality and inner turmoil of others and more than likely muting nature— to emphasize the protagonist’s upheaval of the self. Instead, Eugenides somehow possesses enough authorial magic to both give just service to Cal as well as guide all of the Stephanides through a mesmerizing plot. It’s a treat to watch how the family handles every sort of environment, from villages in the shadow of Mount Olympus or riot-ridden Detroit, to Californian brothel or Detroit mosques, or finally to Calliope’s last summer as a girl and Cal’s romantic woes in Berlin.

Now, glowing praise aside, I must point out Eugenides’ one flaw: he has only published three novels. Lucky for me, a latecomer, his first story collection Fresh Complaints, is set to be released later this year. You can bet I’ve already pre-ordered it and impatiently await its arrival. In the mean time I’ll try not to use it as my latest yard-stick for determining future ratings.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Obscure Objects
Up next: The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

Ilium: A Review

Ilium by Dan Simmons
725 pgs, HarperCollins 2003

Ilium is a work of vivid imagination. In its interplanetary scope and off-the-wall plot is what all speculative and fantastical fiction should strive for.  Even with the Iliad as the jumping off point and the Tempest to guide plot elements Simmons managed to create the unexpected in every chapter. I do not exaggerate when I say this is the strangest novel I have ever read.

In the first 150 pages:

-An old-style human is eaten by an Allosaurus in what once was Ohio.

-Zeus rides from Mars, yes Mars, on a quantum-powered chariot and lances a spaceship—carrying four robots from the moons of Jupiter—to smithereens with a lightning bolt.

-A 21st century Homeric scholar, tasked with observing the Trojan War and noting discrepancies between reality and what the poet recorded, has decided to make war on, and destroy, and the gods.

And that’s just the beginning. Ilium also has Moravecs (robots) obsessed with Shakespeare and Proust, Greek gods that use quantum technology to teleport and terraform Mars, and Little Green Men that erect statues of Prospero along the Martian sea.

There are two ways to take the above. Does it sound ridiculous? Then congratulations, you and my friends now share the same opinion. Very quickly a routine developed between my girlfriend and I over the two weeks I read Ilium. I’d laugh or gasp at the insanity, relate the unrelatable, and then watch as she walked from the room.

Does it sound strange but awesome? Then you’re like me! (I’m so sorry.) I advise you to read the seven-hundred pages and relish in its oddities. Only then can you spend weeks wondering if it was actually well-written and thus worth it to read Olympos, the conclusion of the duology, or if its novelty was its main attraction.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Allosaurses

Up next: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Nutshell: A Review

Nutshell by Ian McEwan
197 pgs, Nan A. Talese 2016

I’ve taken a break from the fantastic, the unbelievable; no magic here. No wizards or swords, scullions or prophecies. Nutshell‘s narrator: a sentient fetus enlightened by his mothers voracious consumption of podcasts and his poet father’s tendency to erupt in spontaneous readings.

“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”

With such parents life might be easy but of course without conflict this book would not exist.

“It’s in me alone that my parents forever mingle, sweetly, sourly, along separate sugar-phosphate backbones, the recipe for my essential self. I also blend John and Trudy in my daydreams—like every child of estranged parents, I long to remarry them, this base pair, and so unite my circumstances to my genome.”

The ancestral home is in disarray. For reasons unaware to our narrator Trudy has cast John from his London manor. Trudy further strains her bond with her unborn son by soiling his beloved father’s memory by replacing him with a banal, cliche-ridden lover: Claude, none other than John’s brother. Together the pair plots to murder John, sell the London manor, and live off the millions.

“Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose.”

The murder of a family member; tragedy in most scenarios. Imagine the sorrow here. Not yet a part of the world but already exposed to its evil. (Write this book one hundred years earlier and its major theme would be: has evil been imprinted on the innocent? Is he destined to be monster?) Compound that exposure with the inability to act and you’ve got among other things, a page-turner.

Nutshell’s concept, its gimmick, sounds ridiculous. It certainly is; I admit, that’s why I picked it up. Don’t let that dissuade you reader of realistic fiction. It would’ve been easy for Nutshell to come across as contrived. A worse, pulp-fiction author may have given our narrator undue agency, the ability to influence on the world. Rest assured McEwan treats us with more respect than that and delivers a novel well worth reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5 spiked smoothies

Up next: Ilium by Dan Simmons